Wednesday, 16 October 2013

If I had to die it’d be now, the weight of the shadow on my heart: Eugénio de Andrade's prose poems

Eugénio de Andrade also wrote prose poems. In fact two of his books contain exclusively prose poems: Memória Doutro Rio (Memory of Another River, 1978) and Vertentes do Olhar (Gazing Slopes, 1987). Since this month I’m interested in showcasing several of the poet’s facets, I’ve selected a few samples. I think more commentary is unnecessary at this point, these prose poems don’t deviate from his life-long interests and themes: childhood, memories, nature, eroticism, they only address them in a new form. So just enjoy them:


Night should have already fallen, the river’s skin darkens. Happy voices moved away luminous, climbed down the stairs gently, while tears would burst out in the dark not before long.
They didn’t know the wolf had managed to run away and the hunter had fallen asleep, tired, under the big red tree. Without the least noise the door started opening, first it was just burning eyes, then the whole animal entered the room.
If I had to die it’d be now, the weight of the shadow on my heart, pushing me towards the waters, ever closer and more deserted.


By which word to begin, by which disorder? The wind rises quickly from the stone’s roughness, the fire horse kicks, neighs in the yard, the little boy opens the gate for him, rides in the dust.
There’s not a lot more to say about that day – the twilight gradually approached the house’s steps, the plough and its shadow are indistinguishable, and at the end of the horizon the kid, the wind’s accomplice, goes away sheltered by insults.


Everywhere where the land is poor and high, there they are, the goats – black, very feminine in their petite hops, from stone to stone. I’ve liked these hussies since I’m a child. I had one that my grandfather gave me, and he himself taught me to serve myself, when I was hungry, from those fat, lukewarm wineskins, where hands dallied slowly before the mouth approached so the milk wouldn’t be lost across the face, the neck, the chest even, which sometimes happened, who knows if on purpose, thinking of the nice-smelling vulva. She was called Maltesa, she was my first horse, and I don’t know if my first wife.


A bee, one of those they say to be Italian, came through the window, stubbornly she chooses me, poises on my shoulder, rests from her work. Flattered by that preference, I started loving her slowly, holding my breathing, afraid that she’d soon notice her mistake, that she’d soon discover I wasn’t the stem from where the dunes are sighted. But her look brought me peace, she was a calm wheat wave. Now only a question disturbed my joy – with me, how would she produce her honey?


I’ll learn a trade I like, there are so few, perhaps carpenter, or stone mason. I’d build a house on this sand ground with wet, polished rocks, or full of water weeds, cold, they’re so pretty, with their crossing veins, or moving away with their backs to each other. I’d go through those narrow goat paths to see, at the end of the afternoon, the travelling circuses arrive in all their glory, which the slow, departing clouds, so white, direct me to.


On waking up I remembered Peter Doyle. It had to be six o’clock, on the Australian blackwood in front of me a bird sang. I won’t swear he was singing in English, only Virginia Woolf’s birds have such privileges, but the rejoicing of my bird reminded me of the mockingbird of the American fields and the cold face of the Irish young man, who on that winter Walt Whitman loved, seated at the end of the tavern, rubbing his hands, next to the stove’s heat.
I opened the window, in the scarce clarity that grew closer I searched, in vain, for the immaculate delicacy that had awaken me. But, suddenly, one, two, three times, wet trills were heard, informing me of a breath of feathers barely discernible in the foliage. Then, invoking very ancient metaphors for singing, I picked up the venerable book that I had at hand and, from stanza to stanza, I went about opening the water levees of being, as one getting ready to fly.


They grow up in secret, children. They hide in the depths of the house to be wild cats, white birches.
One day you’re distracted looking at the flock returning with the afternoon’s dust, and one of them, the prettiest, tip-toes next to you, whispers in your ear that he loves you, that he waits for you over the hay.
Trembling, you go pick up the hunting rifle, and you spend the remaining afternoon shooting at jays, innumerable at that hour.


To go back, to start again – with what words? A band of hooligans laughs, sings in a street corner. I’d like to think that I and those voices that wallow in the night ignore each other to the bone. But it’s not so: the vulgarity of those sounds moves through walls; they are, in spite of it, a company. I live in a country without memory – does anyone know of a sadder place? It’s time for the white robin to fly away. Let’s then return to the beginning. And the beginning are half dozen words and a passion for the clean things of the earth, inexorably sovereign. Those, where light takes shelter, offended. Only they open the doors to sortileges, and sortileges occur in day time, even when they invoke the night, and the waters of silence, and the indelible time without time.


I still feel the rough skin of his hand on mine. He was a stone mason, like me – is there a more precise name for my trade? The old man didn’t suspect I’d be like him one day: patient, affable, dreamy, working from sunrise to sunset. Only with less talent. But then the materials are also different – words, they don’t keep the stone’s weight, they inherit only the colour. Mine have, sometimes, the white smoothness of pebbles, but in others night seemed to have found shelter. They’re the most secret, with them I could make a crown of lighting bolts. Yet, I prefer those with which I disguise tenderness, tenuously veiled by the twilight’s light, with rare occasional glimmers. Exactly what the old man asked of the stone.


Schubert died last night. I’ll miss him, every morning I woke up with him singing. He was fabulous: he sang with his whole body. Thus should the poet be, I thought sometimes, tired of so much speech where only the spirit lingered. But between men and birds there is, at least, this difference: a bird when he sings plumbs vertiginously to the root; for man, it’s very rare that the ardour of vowels burns his waist. That’s why his death moves me so much. Let these lines remain to remember the master.


We still need to bring to these pages, even if only obliquely, those who grow fat on hatred. They come at nightfall, in the slow trail of melancholy, their fat glimmering with satisfaction. Some loved me so much when they were young that it’d be petty to deny them now a glass of wine or a place by the stove to warm their hands. November has arrived, and the cold justifies in a way my promiscuity.

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